Tuesday, February 2, 2010

And More


Re: "what are you saying—leaving aside for a moment the issue of construction versus formulation— that is not dealt with by notion of science’s provisonality?"

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "provisionality", since of course I certainly think that science is provisional myself. So as far as that goes, then, we could just stop and agree to agree. But -- besides being not as much fun -- that just doesn't seem to get us very far in terms of understanding what makes science distinctive, or how or why it's had such a revolutionary impact on human history.

To get a handle on that I think we have to see that something very significant has changed with the advent of the scientific approach, and I think that has precisely to do with the notion of workability or usability, and a change in the very notion of truth. If we say, for example, that a scientific assertion works because it's true, then that raises the question of how do we know that it's true? We're in just the same boat as if we'd said that a scientific assertion works because God wills it -- again, we have no independent knowledge of what God wills apart from just what works.

In both cases, then -- correspondence with an external "reality", or correspondence with God's will -- we have an extraneous condition that adds nothing at all to coping with our situation. It's enough, in other words -- simpler and in keeping with all that we do know -- simply to say that the scientific assertion works, period. Full stop. But then, if we want to retain a notion of truth -- and I do -- we can reverse the order of terms in the statement, and say that a scientific assertion is true because it works (and to the extent that it works). And that's the change in the notion of empirical truth that science has wrought, as I see it.

Re: the Quine quote, I'd say that I do agree with it, but not necessarily with everything Quinian (and I don't think it relates at all to the separate issue of involvement of observer and observed). It does go beyond science but I don't think it implies subjective idealism, though I can see where it might look like it does.

The key thing that distinguishes it from that is the notion that our conceptual constructions do after all impinge on our experience (and/or vice versa) -- and it's in that impinging, that encounter, that our constructions are altered in a kind of Darwinian manner, paring away what doesn't help or what hurts, strengthening what does help. If you like, you can call "experience" "reality" or the "real world" or whatever, but with the understanding that our conceptual constructions aren't trying to model or simulate that world but simply trying to help us cope with it, more or less effectively

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